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American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story Paperback – Unabridged, 4 Feb 2005
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"True neatly describes, in this peculiarly American tale, the inbred atmosphere of the counter-culture comedy world." -- Kirkus Reviews
The first and best biography of the cult anti-hero comedian, Bill Hicks.
The first ever biography of the cult anti-hero comedian, Bill Hicks.See all Product description
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However there are many perspectives that the story can be taken from, and this book is just one of a myriad of angles, including that of his best friend Kevin Booth or that of his family/ estate (American).
This particular book appears to be the only one written from a female perspective, and certainly one of the few that talks about his fiance Colleen McGarr or his assortment of girlfriends.
Before reading this book, I thought that Bill had been basically a loner who rarely had any luck with the opposite sex & spent his time watching porn in hotel rooms.
Truth is Bill had a selection of girlfriends and, even when he was doing routines about how he wasn't getting laid, he actually consistently had many a long-term relationship, even during his years as an alcoholic.
And though many other reviews say that this is a poor book, it actually does contain a lot of interesting material that even fanboys (like me - see profile) won't have heard or read elsewhere.
The one weakness with the book is that it is a little journalistic and anecdotal in tone. Much of the narrative reads like a series of interviews with people who knew him, cobbled together into a kaleidoscope of people's perspectives on him.
In fact, you do get the impression that the author interviewed a few fans plus Dwight Slade and Colleen Mcgarr, without having interviewed any of the Outlaw comics or Bill's friends and family.
Funnily enough though, this is precisely what gives the book its strength - it shows some odd angles that can't be seen in other sources (such as Bill's reaction to No Cure For Cancer and Leary's alleged plagiarism).
There are also other interesting elements that crop up, such as an assessment on whether Hicks was the new Lenny Bruce (by John Magnusson - a man who knew both comedians) and a lot of detail on the Letterman incident (which is one of the main themes of the book).
Oh, and for people who are really into rare material by the man, there are some really interesting performances she comments on, such as when he was on the Dennis Miller show (well worth a watch if you can find it) and also some detail on 'Ninja Batchelor Party'.
All in all, a good book and a worthwhile read, but suffers a little from being written by someone who'd never met him. Still, sometimes a fresh perspective sheds new light, something that Bill was only too aware of...
Written in a straight-forward, journalistic manner, True, clearly a big fan of her subject but never really biased, traces the Bill Hicks story from his childhood to untimely death, through good-research, and first-hand interviews with lots of people who knew him personally. As a unauthorised biography, aside from the direct quotations from interviews and stage performances, it was naturally always going to lack the authentic tone of Bill's voice, but there is an alternative now with the appearance of the comprehensive 2005 tome of his work, Love All the People (New Edition).
If you know very little about Bill Hicks before picking up this book, which is illustrated with good photographs, then you're in the target audience for this capable 'beginner's guide', and will be able to discover the basics with a few interesting anecdotes added in. Most of the time, the focus is very much more on the stand-up comedy side of things, as opposed to other aspects like delving a little deeper into his childhood. The drink and drugs are especially well-documented, but his recovery is spoken about in fewer pages.
'American Scream' is still worth a read today, although another biography, Bill Hicks: Agent of Evolution, penned by the man's life-long close mate Kevin Booth (who True spoke to during the writing of her account) has since surpassed it, but then again, Cynthia had never met the great man, and was only able to access what she could, but she did well with what she did.
Really, this book has been such a frustrating and looooooong time coming considering Bill's ever increasing (and fully justified) cult status. It's really quite surprising that no one has put pen to paper before now; but a big pat on the back to True for making the effort and doing a pretty good job.
This is actually a pretty straight forward, but extremely interesting biography, and it manages to detail Bill's life as well as it can without any imput from the man himself (obviously). True relys on the stories and accounts from Bill's friends and colleagues, and the anecdotes are delievered with just the kind of affection and admiration you would expect. For those of us who only really caught onto Bill after his death the details about his early years, and how he broke into stand-up will be particularly interesting.
Is the definitive account of Bill? I hope not, there is a lot more out there and hopefully one day it will be available to us all, but this is a essential contribution to the, unfortunately, pretty small canon of work.
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